by George Adams
John travels to Trenton carrying an important package for Jefferson, but is ambushed.
| John and Julius's, led by the three Cherokee Indians, leave the Frenchman in Philadelphia on their journey to West Point to meet Henry Knox.
The boys stop over at Trenton, the site of Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton. This battle happened four years before John's journey to West Point.
This map recounts the path Washington took across the Delaware (which Henry Knox organized and led) to surprise the Hussain mercenaries as they slept off their Christmas celebration, December 26th, 1776.
A Map of the village of Trenton in 1776
Setting: Trenton, NJ
Date: June 11th, 1781
POV: John Jouette
Purpose: John and the Indian guides travel from Philadelphia to Trenton, PA on their way on their way to West Point. Trenton was the site of General Washington's crossing of the Delaware important victory over the Hessians. John and Julius come under enemy fire, and we gain insight into John's battle history and the fact that he may be dealing with Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) resulting from the Kings Mountain battle which happened eight months prior.
John kicked at the dirt with the toe of his boot. Four years ago, he'd read in the Richmond Gazette about General Washington's triumphant victory that had taken place on this very patch of ground. He closed his eyes and imagined how it would've been to fight on that frigid Christmas night in 1776.
John had fought in Carolinas at the Battle Kings Mountain and in Richmond against the turn-coat traitor Benedict Arnold. He would have relished the opportunity to confront the Hessians, however fighting in Trenton in December would've been different than anything he experienced in the South.
John, born in southern Virginia he had never traveled north of Alexandria. He despised the cold, and the Battle of Trenton had taken place in the dead of winter--and not just any winter, the coldest winter anyone could recall. The Richmond Gazette had reported the harrowing story of Washington's three-thousand-man army daring nighttime crossing of the Delaware River in a raging snowstorm.
John recalled the overwhelming pride he felt when he and his mates read that Washington's men had routed the Hessians, capturing over eight hundred men, killing eighty, including the Colonel Rall, the Hussain's commander. The town of Richmond erupted, including a day-long celebration with militia parades and cannon salutes.
The word of Washington's victory at Trenton shot through the colonies like a lightning bolt, igniting the hopes and dreams of those who had risked their lives for a cause, that was, at the time, in serious jeopardy. For months prior, the fight for independence had floundered. Washington's volunteer army was on the brink of disbanding following a string of devastating defeats, including the humiliating retreat from New York and subsequent evacuation of the Continental Congress from Philadelphia to Baltimore.
The Battle of Trenton was the spark that reignited John--and his fellow patriots'--hopes that one day they would be free of the King's tyranny. John had defied his father's wishes and enlisted in the newly formed Virginia cavalry. Memories of his father began to flow in. He wished his father could see the kind of a man and soldier he had become.
"Are you with us?" Julius asked.
John looked up. "Yep. I'm just thinking about the men who fought here and how much we owe to them. We must complete this mission, Julius, or their sacrifice will be for naught."
The old Cherokee raised his hand. "We go!"
"Yes, we are ready," John said.
All was quiet, the sun had set, and night had fallen on the small village of about a dozen wood clap houses. John thought it strange that the streets were empty. The townspeople must be inside preparing dinner or finishing chores.
He noticed a lone candle flickering in the window of a small dry goods store down the street. The wooden frame of a partially constructed school and a church were on the opposite side. No one was out working on them. They had gone home for supper. John looked around at the other homes. The windows were dark.
Odd. Where was everyone?
He heard someone muttering. He looked over at the Chief, who had stopped walking, chanted quietly, and nodded with his eyes closed.
"What is it, old man?" John asked.
The Chief stopped and turned. John saw intense fear radiating from the Chief's eyes.
"Tianuwa, Tianuwa!" the Chief said.
"What's he saying?" John said, insisting the younger brave translate. "What's tee-u-wa?" John made a futile attempt to pronounce the word.
"Tee-a-an-u-wa," said the brave enunciating each syllable. "Evil spirit from Below Earth" The young brave turned and pointed above the rooftops, far into the darkness of the night's sky. "Giant hawk creatures. Feathers of iron. Steals children and dogs to feed young in nearby caves. Must go!"
John sensed the fear in the young man's voice.
"Nonsense," John said.
"I don't know John; this place is strange. Something isn't right here. Let's get back to the river and get the horses," Julius said.
Natives had their ways to communicate with the dead and John was not about to stick around to see this so-called hawk creature.
John stopped, stood still, and listened carefully. Nothing. No sound--no birds chirping, dogs barking. Nothing.
Where is everyone?
He felt very uneasy. "Let's get out of here," John said eager to go back where they had left the horses.
The night had enveloped the town making it difficult see into the windows of the homes that lined the narrow on the street. Strange, the only sign of life John noticed was the solitary candle in the window of the dry goods store.
A loud noise broke the silence like a rock smashing a window.
John threw himself to the ground, with his mind racing to catch up with his body. He had recognized the all too familiar sound - rifle fire from mid-distance. (add something he notices that is different - special gun, can he tell the difference between a British gun and American? Is it a sound he had not heard before? Unique?)
John laid in the cool moist dirt of the town's road and looked forward to try to make out the origin of the shot. To his left, the Chief was lying on his back grasping his left shoulder, blood oozing through his fingers. His face wrenched in pain.
"Stay down!" John said in a low voice to the Chief.
John wait for fire from other shooters who'd looking for obvious targets. He heard footsteps closing fast. He reached for his blade, held it handle tight, ready to defend himself if they jumped him.
I'll give them something to remember me by...
He relaxed his hold on the knife when he saw it was the two Cherokee braves rushing to rescue the old man. Each grabbed a foot and dragged the Chief to the side of the road, behind a weathered gray picket fence.
A second shot rang out from the same location.
The shot hit the taller brave in the upper leg. Wrenching in agony, he crawled behind the behind the fence, as the other brave pulled the Chief to safety.
It had been less than fifteen seconds between shots, which meant it was shooter with outstanding re-loading skill.
John listened carefully and laid still. Was it safe to make a dash for shelter? He'd be exposed. He scanned the darkness, no candles or other signs of life. Where was the shooter?
"Julius?" John said in a low hush, not wanting to give away his position.
"I'm over here. To your left, behind the fence. About ten paces away from you. Can you crawl over here?" Julius said.
John was ready to make a go for the fence line.
Another shot exploded in the cool night air, echoing like cannon fire. This time he recognized it.
Not a musket. A long rifle.
An enemy sniper.
The time lapse between the blast of the powder and the ball striking the ground next to him, the sniper was more than two-hundred yards away. If John had been standing in the open, he'd be dead. With his J.E. Brown forty-four-inch Virginia long-barrel, John could land a deer from over three-hundred yards. It was well know that the British Ferguson rifle, with a range of up to five hundred yards, but realistically accurate to three-hundred.
"John, you hit? That ball struck inches away from your head. A Redcoat sniper," Julius said with a slight panic in his voice. "John can you hear me."
John looked right. The shot came from the northeast and struck the dirt behind his feet. John was pinned down.
The sniper fire had triggered a memory of months past, at Kings Mountain against led by the British Officer, Major Patrick Ferguson and his lot of Carolina Tories. Ferguson led the British sharp shooters. He personally designed a long rifle which could reload in the rain in under ten seconds due to the breech plug which was attached to the trigger guard. This allowed the sharpshooter to reload without having the stand up the gun.
The ferocity of the British rifle fire ripped the leaves and branches off virtually every surrounding tree that unseasonably warm October day. John was one of the two-hundred frontiersmen from the western parts of the Carolinas and Virginia that charged up Kings Mountain, only to be repelled by hostile fire and the British bayonets. Men died next to him. John's fellow riflemen repeatedly poured deadly fire into the exposed enemy as they climbed the hill, sheltering behind trees and logs. On the third--and ultimately the final push up the hill the British and Tories surrendered.
John lost his friend, Julian Mastic, that day to a bayonet. He had learned that day that while victory is sweet, it comes at a heavy price. Holding Julian in his arms, as he bled out, was one of the most difficult things he'd ever experienced. The image of his friend taking his last breath on this earth would live with John for the rest of his life.
However, the day was worse for the British commander, Major Ferguson. Hit by rifle fire in the leg, with his foot still in the stirrup, Ferguson was dragged down the mountain trail. A young Carolina militia soldier ran to the wounded commander, and demanded his surrender. In a last act of defiance, Ferguson drew his pistol shot the unprepared soldier in the face. John witnessed the dastardly act and was joined by other militia soldiers who retaliated. John attempted to stop them, but the hatred and fury overwhelmed the men and Ferguson's body was filled with musket holes and stripped of all belongings.
"John! You okay?" Julius yelled from behind the fence.
John opened his eyes and looked ahead. "Ya, I'm fine. Can you tell how many there are?"
"I think there is only one, in a house just to the northeast. I'll draw fire and you get back behind the fence," Julius said.
"Okay. I'm ready," John said. He heard Julius loading his rifle, followed by a click from rifle hammer, a silent pause, and the familiar sound of the flint striking the frizzen.
Bang! Julius's rifle let out a loud crack. A bellowing echo filled the humid night's air.
Bang! Another shot sound came from the opposing direction. A plank of the wood fence exploded behind John.
This was John's chance. He scrambled to his feet, hunched, then turned and ran for the safety in the direction of the fence line.
The fence took another direct hit about a foot from John's head. He rubbed his eyes to clear the dirt, and spotted Julius crouched down next to him. "One shooter, with a Ferguson," John said breathing hard.
"Ya, I've never seen a reload that quickly," Julius said.
"What now?" Julius asked from one knee, calmly loading his rifle and prepping the pan, readying to return fire. John felt a sense of pride, Julius had transformed from that mischievous young man to a brave soldier.
The evening dusk made it difficult to see if there were any other threats in the area. Another shot rang out and the ball whistled just over the fence above John's head.
"Let's to get to the horses," John said.
The boys had let the horses rest and water at the creek side, which ran through the town and into the Delaware river.
"That won't take long. Here come the in'juns," Julius said.
A brave ran towards the fence line holding the reins of Celar and Julius's horse in each hand.
"Outstanding! Let's go," John said.
John ran toward Celar, pulled the crownpiece of the bridle, turning Celar. He set his foot in the stirrup and threw himself into the saddle.
He watched Julius do the same.
Another shot rang out. The ball struck the ground, spraying dirt into the air as the ball ricocheted against a rock and into the youngest Brave's leg sending him to the ground in agony.
The other brave ran to his side, throwing one arm over his shoulder and carrying him behind the fence.
John's heart pounded hard like a hammer against an anvil. Something was missing.
Jefferson's satchel! Where is it?
He looked down at this side then on the ground, next to the fence line.
It wasn't there.
He felt the earth shake. The familiar feeling of hooves crashing down on to the hardened road. He could see three or four, horses charging hard from distance of about two hundred yards. They were not wearing the red lobsterback uniforms, but in the darkness, he couldn't make out whether it was friend or foe.
It all made sense now--why the town was so still. They were lying in wait, until he separated from the horses, and walk into the open.
John got up and motioned to Julius to make a run for it. He would either be shot by the distant rifle, or captured, or worse, cut down by the oncoming horseman.
The grey clapboard house was about thirty yards. They could make it there and then hold their ground.
John crashed through the door and into the one room house, with Julius following close behind.
No one was home. A smoldering fire crackled in the stone fireplace. A long table with four chairs were in the center of the room. A small staircase led to the upper floor.
"What now?" Julius said. He closed the door and moved toward the window careful not to be scene.
"They will be here any second." John said.
"Did you see my satchel?"
"Here." Julius threw it at John and smiled.
"I can always count on you to give me pause. You are a scoundrel. I thought it was gone."
John opened the satchel to check the contents. Everything appeared intact.
He felt the familiar tremors radiate through the floorboards.
"We're boxed in like a raccoon in a cage trap. We are going to have to make a stand. Load up," John said.
"I'll giv'em hell," Julius said loading his rifle.
John pulled the canvas curtain back and saw the four horsemen raced toward the house. He relaxed his grip on his rifle. He recognized one of the riders. It was Ben.
How did he find me?
John pulled the door open and stepped onto the brick steps.
"Howdy John," Ben said smiling. "I figured you'd be in need of a friendly hand."
"How'd you find me?"
"A Frenchman in Philadelphia told me where you would be. He seemed to know much about your plans. One of Washington's agents I suppose."
"But you were guiding General Wayne's men back to Virginia? What happened?" John said.
"Wayne's men rendezvoused with Brigadier General Morgan and Lieutenant Colonel William Washington's dragoons shortly after I left you. Colonel Washington had a message from Layfette's courier stating that your mission was of the utmost importance and Governor Jefferson's documents must reach their destination of West Point. I was ordered to take riflemen and cover your rear. Now it looks like we will join you on your way up to The Point," Ben said.
"Honored to have the company," John said acknowledging the other two men on horseback.
"Have you seen our Indian friends?"
"Yes, they're tending to the old man. We left them back near the river. They're in no shape to travel," Ben said.
From the north, two horsemen raced toward them at a fast gallop. John grabbed his rifle.
"Those are our men," the older man seated on a stout grey mare said. "I sent them to flush out the sniper who was shooting from the stone house on east bank."
John recognized the man but could not put the face to a name.
John's attention was drawn to the two men who rode up, pulled back hard on the bridals, their horses responded on cue. Skilled horseman by the look of their saddle and riding gloves. Their horses were not pulled from the average militia stock. These horses' necks were larger with pulsing veins bulging from their necks and healthy long tousled manes.
One rider had the long beard with his long rifle strapped rightly across his back. The other man had a mean, worn look, wearing a full deerskin shirt and chaps, likely an Overmountian man from Appalachia. Overmountain men and known to be outstanding sharpshooters and even better trackers. The Overmountain men joined up with Morgan back in 1775, but only a few were known to be with the Continentals. They despised authority, but even more so, the Crown. John respected these men and wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of an argument with one of them.
"Whoever it was that took shots at you and your in'jun friends is gone. We found wading scraps near an open window that looked out toward the picket fence on the opposite end of the street. We followed his tracks to the edge of the town.
"How many riders?" John asked.
"He was alone, road north, hard and fast."
"Should we follow him?" The gruff, long-bearded man said, turning to the older soldier for direction.
"No, it may be a trap. Let's get on our way to The Point. We need to get this package to its destination. You men travel ahead northeast along the Delaware toward Princeton. We will take the road northwest," said the older rider. John got a closer look at the rifle strapped to the man's horse; his eyes drawn to the rifle butt's intricate silver inlay. John could not believe it. It was the actual Tick Licker rifle, a one of a kind Kentucky long-rifle, owned by the man who charted the Wilderness Road.
"Young man, I knew your father well. He was a fine man," said the rifleman.
"Thank you, sir," respectfully, John said, acknowledging he was in the presence of an important man.
"I'm Lieutenant Colonel, Daniel Boone."
"Yes sir, I know who you are. We have never met, but I'm well aware of your great accomplishments."
"Those tales grow taller and more embellished with every day that goes by. I've just been fortunate to come across fine men like these throughout my expeditions," Boone said, gesturing to the Overmountain riders. "I'm also a good friend of the Governor. He requested I escort you to your destination."
"The sun will be rising soon," said the long-bearded Overmountain man, impatiently to Boone.
"Yes, we must go. We have a long ride ahead of us. We have to make it to West Point before night fall," Boone said.
John walked down the short wooden steps, and patted Celar on the neck. Celar dropped his head welcoming his friend back.
John mounted Celar, looked at Julius and patted Jefferson's satchel, which was strapped tightly across John's chest.
"Don't lose it this time," Julius said.
"You just worry about yourself," John said smiling.